Tobacco Warehouse Meeting Marked by Controversy

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Yesterday evening’s community meeting at Borough Hall concerning the proposals for adaptive use of the Tobacco Warehouse in DUMBO exposed a rift between arts organizations, which favor allowing such use, and community activists, who mostly want to keep the structure as is. It began with a presentation by Regina Myer, President of the Brooklyn Bridge Park Corporation (photo) describing the process by which the request for proposals was developed and issued, and the two proposals, one by LAVA/Volcano Love, a cultural organization now based in Prospect Heights, and the other by St. Ann’s Warehouse, a theater and performance space that now occupies a building across Water Street from the Tobacco Warehouse, which building is slated to be demolished to make way for Two Trees’ Dock Street project. You can see the text and illustrations that accompanied Ms. Myer’s presentation in pdf format by going to the BBPC website and clicking on the link “Tobacco Warehouse RFP Community Presentation”. Ms. Myer noted that the BBPC’s Board of Directors would be asked to make a “conditional designation” of the winning proposal at its meeting to be held tomorrow.

Following Ms. Myer’s presentation, the floor was opened to questions and comments. City Council Member Steve Levin, and representatives from the offices of Congresswoman Nydia Velazquez and State Assembly Member Joan Millman, all objected to the process by which the RFPs were developed and issued, to the haste of the proceedings, and to the lack of public participation. Levin asked why only two proposals were received when 1,400 organizations had received requests. Borough President Marty Markowitz (who was uncharacteristically reticent when asked by Ms. Myer if he wanted to add to her opening remarks) replied that over 3,000 notices of the RFP for redevelopment of the Loew’s Theater were sent out, but only three responses were received. Millman’s representative asked why the issue of use of the Tobacco Warehouse wasn’t postponed until after the consultants hired by BBPC to consider alternatives to housing as revenue sources for the Park have issued their report.

Nancy Webster, Executive Director of the Brooklyn Bridge Park Conservancy, a citizen organization that acts as an advocate for the Park, said that certain principles should apply to any development at the Tobacco Warehouse site. Among these was that a significant portion of the site’s use should be devoted to free public programs. Another was that nothing constructed within the existing walls should exceed their height. Both the LAVA and St. Ann’s proposals, in their present form, would violate the latter principle.

Representatives of community organizations from DUMBO, Fulton Ferry and Boerum Hill all decried the failure of BBPC to heed public concerns. Sandy Balboza, President of the Atlantic Avenue Betterment Association, characterized the process as “rushing, rushing, rushing.” Judy Stanton, Executive Director of the Brooklyn Heights Association, asked why the Warehouse space shouldn’t be left as it is, for use as an outdoor venue for arts events and the like.

A number of representatives of arts organizations, including BAM president Karen Brooks Hopkins, spoke in favor of adaptive use of the Warehouse space as an arts venue, stressing its contribution to the development of Brooklyn and DUMBO as a lively center for the arts.

The Tobacco Warehouse issue will be on the agenda at tomorrow’s (Wednesday, November 17) meeting of the BBPC board, in the Blue Room at City Hall, Manhattan, beginning at approximately 1:45 p.m. The public is invited.

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  • BG

    I would think that if Dock Street is subject to consideration of how it will appear from the walkway of the Bridge, then certainly the Lava and St. Ann’s proposals should be subjected to similar scruitny. The St. Ann’s roof plan clearly shows placement of mechanicals that are not visible in the elevations. Or perhaps they’re actually Two Trees-style “cabanas,” since those typically get labeled as such on drawings submitted for approval.

    The Empire Stores and Tobacco Warehouse should be conserved with as much historical accuracy and contextual respect as possible. If the park wanted to site a building that didn’t respond to the historic scale, it should have designated the Purchase Building for re-use and permited variances in height where they would have less impact (i.e. under the Bridge).

  • Reggie

    “The Tobacco Warehouse issue will be on the agenda at tomorrow’s (Wednesday, November 17) meeting of the BBPC board,” where the selection of St. Ann’s, decided well before the RFP was even written, will receive a pro forma vote.

  • Eve

    @BG – It’s pretty clear to me that the mechanical units on the roof are enclosed in the height of the roof structure. A space of that size wouldn’t require gigantic units like the Two Trees “cabanas” you mention.

    And why is no one mentioning how insane and scary that giant gold LAVA pyramid is?!? Eek.

  • Reggie

    Eve, no one is mentioning the pyramid because no proposal but St. Ann’s was ever going to get considered.

  • bklyn20

    How much of the revenue of this venue/art space/shoe-in goes to St Ann’s, and how much goes to the Park? Who or what entity is paying for the TW changes? Please explain.